The Bluetooth Special Interest Group has just announced that it has finalized the final specs for Bluetooth LE, a next-gen version of the Bluetooth audio spec that promises far-reaching performance improvements for future headphones and headphones like Apple’s next release. AirPods Pro 2.
What’s different between the new Bluetooth LE specification and the older version? A major update is the new LC3 codec, which is designed to enable better sounding audio at lower data rates. According to the Bluetooth SIG website, the LC3 “will bring tremendous flexibility to developers, allowing them to make better design tradeoffs between key product attributes such as audio quality and power consumption.”
Auracast: Bluetooth Audio Sharing Made Easy
Another big change that LE will bring is auracast, a technology that can stream a synchronized audio stream to multiple headphones. With Auracast, a group of friends can simultaneously “tune in” to a single stream, allowing everyone to hear the same song, podcast, TikTok video, or whatever audio they want to hear.
The benefits of Auracast also extend to TV viewing as Bluetooth LE transmitters can be integrated into TVs. This would allow multiple viewers to use headphones to watch the same show, with the volume adjusted to personal taste – or spatial audio enabled if desired. There is no need for a soundbar or other external audio equipment with heavy hardware in this scenario.
Bluetooth SIG has plans for Auracast that also extend beyond the home. Video screens in public spaces can remain “silent,” with accompanying audio streaming wirelessly to anyone with Bluetooth LE-compatible headphones or headphones. And the process to make that happen would be similar to public Wi-Fi, where you use your phone’s settings to log in and start streaming.
Other primary uses of Auracast would be museum exhibitions, where visitors can choose to stream a curated tour, and concerts, where attendees can access a “personal” mix that sounds cleaner and easier to listen to. Bluetooth LE and Auracast also have far-reaching implications for people with hearing problems who would otherwise struggle to hear music, movie soundtracks, and various types of audience-facing audio such as airport announcements.
Review: Bluetooth LE is here, but will it be in the AirPods Pro 2?
Apple tends to do things its own way, which is why we are skeptical about lossless audio coming to AirPods 2. (That, and the fact that there is no evidence to be traced in the iOS 16 beta to the contrary.) This is despite the fact that the entire Apple Music library has been updated to lossless audio and subscribers can access the resolution ranges at no extra cost.
But Apple products support basic Bluetooth, and Bluetooth LE is the next-gen version of the technology, so it seems likely that it will appear in upcoming Apple products like the AirPods Pro 2.
Regardless of Apple’s plans, Bluetooth LE promises to improve personal hearing for all of us and bring a new level of flexibility via Auracast that enables shared audio experiences and improved accessibility. It’s hard to imagine any future AirPods variant that isn’t part of this wave.